Sunday, February 25, 2018

Two Masters at Play, One Trio Exploring

Recorded at the 2016 Jazz & Wine Festival Bordeaux, "Masters of Bordeaux" (Sunnyside Records) finds pianist Martial Solal in a set of duo conversations with saxophonist (soprano and tenor) Dave Liebman. The two did not play together until the tour that accompanied the appearance at this Festival but they sound like old friends as they move through the program, six recognizable standards that the duo make sound fresh.  Solal, 19 days short of his 89th birthday, and Liebman, one month shy of his 70th, do what one hopes masters will do; that is, the music they create keeps the listener glued to his/her seat wondering where the pieces will go next.

photo by Jean-Baptiste Millot
Opening with "All The Things You Are", the duo, with Liebman on expressive soprano sax, dance their way through the Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein II classic. Liebman switches to tenor for their exploration of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" yet, after his excellent solo, Solal's far-ranging solo stands out for its inventive is of melody and shifting rhythms.  Back to soprano for Miles Davis's "Solar", the duo dance through the melody while the solos will make smile, even gasp at times, at the melodic and harmonic leaps both musicians take.

Honestly, there's not a weak moment on this recording. Both Martial Solal and Dave Liebman are on top of their game, taking chances because of their mutual trust and love for improvisation yet never ignoring the songs.  "Masters of Bordeaux" is an apt title for these two musicians are truly masters of music and, in the parlance of the best red wines from the region in which this concert took place , are "Premier Cru Classe."

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Give a listen to one of the fine collaborations:

Kevin Sun may be recognizable from his work with the quartets Great on Paper (cd review here) or Earprint (reviewed here) or his byline as a transcriber of several of Ethan Iverson's interviews. The Harvard/New England Conservatory graduate (he was the first to complete the schools' combined 5-year degree program) studied composition with Miguel Zenón and John Hollenbeck and has written on his blog ("A Horizontal Search")  an understanding of both the history and forward motion in jazz. "Trio | Kevin Sun" (Endectomorph Music) is his debut recording as a leader. Like the best saxophone trio recordings (Sonny Rollins's "Way Out West" and "Freedom Suite", Joe Henderson's "The State of the Tenor Vols. 1 & 2", Bernie McGann's "Bundeena"), this music works because it is a collaboration of Sun (tenor saxophone, c-melody saxophone, clarinet) with the impressive rhythm section of bassist Walter Stinson (Adam O'Farrill Quartet) and drummer Matt Honor (Cowboys & Frenchmen, Cat Toren).

photo by Jessica Carlton-Thomas
"Trio" contains a lot of music (72 minutes), is composed of most original works (11 Sun tunes, one standard, and two group pieces), and goes in myriad directions.  Opening with "Tranaccidentation", one immediately hears how the three musicians listen closely to each other, how Sun does not force the action and has a subtle, softer,  tone on tenor sax.  In fact, it's Stinson and Honor who push the piece forward in the manner of bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall of Trio Air.  Sun moves to clarinet on the next track "Loading Screen", the angular melody paired with the clanging percussion and bass counterpoint.  The C-melody saxophone shows up twice, first in the mysterious group piece "One Never Knows Now" (Stinson's impressive bowing underpinning the improvisations) and then on the standard "All of Me" - Sun's softer approach on the saxophone leans more towards Lester Young yet the brisk tempo and his delightful solo has a good dollop of Sonny Rollins in it.

photo by Jessica Carlton-Thomas
Several pieces contain great power. "Announcements" is a frisky romp that drives for the entire 2:13 while "Misanthrope" has a "heavy metal" feel at the open, Nirvana-like with bleating saxophone and crushing drums.  "Air Purifier", at nearly 12 minutes, is the longest track and goes through a number of changes in tempo and dynamics, with Sun moving from clarinet to tenor after the opening section.  There's a powerful bass and drum conversation before the piece slows again; Sun goes back to clarinet, plays a somber melody, and the bassist takes the lead. The somber tone lasts through the close of the piece.

There is so much to explore on "Trio | Kevin Sun" and I know hard it can be sitting through a long program.  But this music is worth the time and effort.  The compositions are adventurous, the skill, effort, and ideas of the musicians stand out, and one wishes to be in the audience when they explore these pieces.  Go to to find out when this Trio is playing near you - this is "alive" music and should be seen and heard.

Here's a taste of the Trio:

1 comment:

  1. I'm unfamiliar with Sun's work, but your review makes me want t check him out. Thanks for shining the light Richard